A drive to develop AI for the battlefield has begun as Porton Down begins its recruitment of hundreds of top secret scientists.

Over the next three months, jobs will be advertised for around 300 defence scientists to work for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which is based at Porton Down, near Salisbury, and other sites around the country.

A new technology hub, which launched in April this year, will become Dstl’s fifth site and will focus solely on AI. 

The recruitment drive, which is the biggest in Dstl’s 20-year history, comes amid the Government’s bid to make the UK a "science and tech superpower" by 2030, with the ability to "monitor, protect and defend" the country’s interests.

Coders and data analysts will be sought in the recruitment process, so that they can focus on how AI can be used to the best of its ability in the field, as well as engineers who will work with kit on the ground such as lasers and missiles. 

It is understood the roles will include a focus on the threats of the future such as increased hostility and aggression from Russia and China’s technological advancements as well as the dangers posed by organised crime and terrorist groups and cyber hackers.

Last year Defence secured a £16.5 billion increase in spending over the next four years. The MoD is investing £6 billion of this settlement in research and development, including an extra £1 billion specifically on science and technology.

It comes after General Sir Patrick Sanders, Head of Strategic Command, told The Telegraph last month that the military would be focusing on recruiting coders and gamers to fight the wars of tomorrow, which will be fought in cyber and space. 

A Government source told this newspaper: “The next four years are absolutely critical for this country if we’re going to secure our tech advantage over the big threat countries – China, Russia, Iran and others

“Science and new technologies are going to be under the forefront of that fight. DSTL is really bolstering its ability to deliver on this in the Government.

“It is coming out of the shadows to recruit the best people.” Dstl said it is looking for people who are inquisitive and have technical expertise, particularly those who have previously worked in the S&T field who might never have considered working in Defence and Security before.  

On Monday NATO leaders pledged to provide a collective response to attacks in space as part of its ability to invoke Article 5 which states an attack on one is an attack on all.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) defence and security think tank, Lindy Cameron – the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is part of GCHQ – said it was crucial the UK continues to build its cyber resilience to stop attacks from reaching their targets.

Founded in 1916, Porton Down’s expansive, high-security site in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside is the oldest chemical warfare research centre in the world.

There, Dstl’s highly trained scientists are used to handling some of the most dangerous known substances such as Ebola, anthrax, the nerve agent Novichok and plague.

Part of their work is to try to counter future threats from hostile states such as China and Russia. Minister for defence procurement Jeremy Quin said the investment in research and development is "central to the evolution of defence and security", adding: "This will ensure MoD science and technology programmes upgrade and adapt our forces to meet a range of future threats.

"The Dstl recruitment campaign paves the way for the next generation of highly skilled scientists to work on sophisticated projects designing and engineering pioneering military equipment."